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4 Ways Porn Can Warp the Way Women View Themselves

Porn can warp the way a girl sees her body, her personality, her role in a relationship, and her value as an equal partner. Here’s how.

By November 4, 2021No Comments

FTND note: While we are specifically addressing heterosexual, cisgender women in this article, it is important to mention that porn can have a negative impact on everyone of any gender, including men.

There are too many voices out there telling girls they don’t have what it takes one way or another.

One industry that’s a big culprit of this: porn.

Porn is full of lies that make the journey into confident adulthood even more challenging for young women than it already is—and continue to harm their self-image as women.

Related: 5 Of The Most Degrading Ideas Porn Sells About Women

This one’s for the girls—understanding is power. Take a look at the science-backed ways that porn can negatively affect your self-esteem, and refuse to let porn win. Porn can warp the way a girl or woman sees her body, her personality, her role in a relationship, and her value as an equal partner.

Here’s how.

1. Her body.

Not surprisingly, studies show that porn consumption can lead to or fuel body dysmorphia.

It’s no secret that pornographic content shows women with exaggerated physical features and overall promotes unrealistic standards of physical appearance. When a young girl watches video after video portraying such heightened standards, she subliminally adopts the belief that those features or characteristics are what is sexy, and that if she can’t look like that, then intimate partners won’t find her attractive.

We hear story after story of girls who learn to hate their own bodies because of feeling that they cannot measure up to the women they see in porn. Also, consider the data that indicates more young girls are getting elective and invasive plastic surgery on their genitals based on pornographic expectations.

Related: Porn Is Inspiring Teen Girls To Undergo This Invasive And Painful Cosmetic Surgery

In fact, a number of peer-reviewed studies have found a link between pornography consumption and mental health outcomes like depression,Harper, C., & Hodgins, D. C. (2016). Examining Correlates of Problematic Internet Pornography Use Among University Students. Journal of behavioral addictions, 5(2), 179–191. https://doi.org/10.1556/2006.5.2016.022COPY  anxiety,Wordecha, M., Wilk, M., Kowalewska, E., Skorko, M., Łapiński, A., & Gola, M. (2018). 'Pornographic binges' as a key characteristic of males seeking treatment for compulsive sexual behaviors: Qualitative and quantitative 10-week-long diary assessment. Journal of behavioral addictions, 7(2), 433–444. https://doi.org/10.1556/2006.7.2018.33COPY  loneliness,Butler, M. H., Pereyra, S. A., Draper, T. W., Leonhardt, N. D., & Skinner, K. B. (2018). Pornography Use and Loneliness: A Bidirectional Recursive Model and Pilot Investigation. Journal of sex & marital therapy, 44(2), 127–137. https://doi.org/10.1080/0092623X.2017.1321601COPY  lower life satisfaction,Willoughby, B. J., Young-Petersen, B., & Leonhardt, N. D. (2018). Exploring trajectories of pornography use through adolescence and emerging adulthood.55(3), 297-309. doi:10.1080/00224499.2017.1368977COPY  and poorer self-esteem and overall mental health.Koletić G. (2017). Longitudinal associations between the use of sexually explicit material and adolescents' attitudes and behaviors: A narrative review of studies. Journal of adolescence, 57, 119–133. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.adolescence.2017.04.006COPY  These studies have found that these links are particularly strong when pornography is consumed to try to escape negative emotions, and also when pornography consumption becomes heavy and compulsive.Levin, M. E., Lillis, J., & Hayes, S. C. (2012). When is online pornography viewing problematic among college males? Examining the moderating role of experiential avoidance.19(3), 168-180. doi:10.1080/10720162.2012.657150COPY 

In addition to a girl’s personal porn consumption causing low self-esteem, her partner’s porn habit also has a high likelihood of decreasing her body image and satisfaction, according to studies. This girl had to listen to her husband confess to her that he found her body disgusting compared to porn performers.

Sadly, these dynamics are all too prevalent, and it makes maintaining a positive body image as a woman even more difficult in our pornified world. But take heart, it’s not impossible.

2. Her personality.

Porn often portrays women and girls with personality characteristics deemed “sexy” by the industry, and by consumer demand.

Women in porn are hyper-sexualized, and behave in an exaggerated sexual manner regardless of the danger or nonconsensual nature of a situation. They are often submissive to the men or partners on screen and appear to enjoy whatever the men want to do to them, including violent and degrading acts. This material communicates to watching girls that the sexiest kind of woman is one who does what a guy wants, and who acts like she enjoy all of it (even if she doesn’t).

Obviously, this is problematic for many reasons.

Related“No Harm In Looking, Right?” A Study Of Porn’s Impact On Self-Esteem

In light of this discussion, such porn realities can cause girls to question their own personalities. Real girls are complex, have multidimensional desires, have unique opinions and preferences during sex, and sometimes might not want sex at all.

And what about the parts of a girl’s personality that aren’t about sex? What about her hobbies? Her intelligence and talents? Her sense of humor? What about the times she feels deeply troubled or discouraged? Porn doesn’t highlight any of the three-dimensionality of women and their complexities.

Under porn’s influence, a girl is likely to hyper-focus on her sexuality at the expense of what makes her unique and multi-faceted. Don’t sell yourself short—porn is trash, and you deserve better.

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3. Her role in an intimate relationship.

Like we mentioned above, porn often shows women as submissive objects for male pleasure.

This kind of mental programming teaches girls who date guys that their role in intimacy is to “be sexy” or to please her guy, no matter how painful or uncomfortable his sexual requests might be.

Porn normalizes dehumanizing submission by constantly repeating those themes in popular videos on free porn sites and by rewiring the brain to be less sensitive to extreme images. Even strong, self-aware women who know their worth are targeted by this messaging.

Realted: Study Finds That Porn Is Linked To Condoning Sexual Assault

When porn normalizes abuse or sexual submission for a woman, she may be less quick and confident in opposing victimizing behavior from her partner.

Here’s a real-life story from a Fighter who has experienced this.

Not to mention that porn normalizes violence against women.

Related: Study Reveals Image-Based Abuse Victims Suffer Similar Trauma As Sexual Assault Victims

According to a 2021 study, 1 out of every 8 porn titles shown to first-time visitors to porn sites described acts of sexual violence.Vera-Gray, F., McGlynn, C., Kureshi, I., & Butterby, K. (2021). Sexual violence as a sexual script in mainstream online pornography. The British Journal of Criminology, doi:10.1093/bjc/azab035COPY  And according to studies analyzing the content of porn videos themselves, it’s estimated that as few as 1 in 3 porn videos (33.9%) and as many as 9 in 10 videos (88.2%) show acts of physical aggression or violence, while 48.7%—about half—contain verbal aggression.Fritz, N., Malic, V., Paul, B., & Zhou, Y. (2020). A Descriptive Analysis of the Types, Targets, and Relative Frequency of Aggression in Mainstream Pornography. Archives of sexual behavior, 49(8), 3041–3053. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-020-01773-0COPY Bridges, A. J., Wosnitzer, R., Scharrer, E., Sun, C., & Liberman, R. (2010). Aggression and sexual behavior in best-selling pornography videos: a content analysis update. Violence against women, 16(10), 1065–1085. https://doi.org/10.1177/1077801210382866COPY  These studies also found that despite the levels of violence and aggression, the targets were almost always portrayed as responding with pleasure or neutrality.

In fact, research confirms that women are the targets of aggression or violence in porn about 97% of the time,Fritz, N., Malic, V., Paul, B., & Zhou, Y. (2020). A Descriptive Analysis of the Types, Targets, and Relative Frequency of Aggression in Mainstream Pornography. Archives of sexual behavior, 49(8), 3041–3053. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-020-01773-0COPY  and that only 18.3% of women in popular porn videos (compared to 78% of men) were shown to reach climax.Séguin, L. J., Rodrigue, C., & Lavigne, J. (2018). Consuming Ecstasy: Representations of Male and Female Orgasm in Mainstream Pornography. Journal of sex research, 55(3), 348–356. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2017.1332152COPY 

What type of messages does all of this send to young women who turn to porn to learn about sex? Violence in porn isn’t an exception, and it teaches women that they need to endure and even enjoy abuse, and that their pleasure is not a priority.

4. Her value as a partner.

Because of the effects of hyper-sexualized porn on the brain, a girl or woman can easily begin to base her romantic worth and value solely on her perceived conventional sexiness. And if her partner consumes porn? She may judge her worth by his acceptance of her, knowing she is “competing” with impossible fantasy standards online.

Much of the harm comes from porn fostering unrealistic expectations that partners feel they can never live up to in a real relationship. In porn, the performers always look their best. They are forever young, surgically enhanced, airbrushed, and Photoshopped to perfection.Hilton, D. L., (2013). Pornography addiction—a supranormal stimulus considered in the context of neuroplasticity. Socioaffective Neuroscience & Psychology, 3:20767. doi:10.3402/snp.v3i0.20767COPY  So it’s not difficult to see why, according to a national poll, six out of seven women believe that porn has changed men’s expectations of how women should look.Paul, P. (2010). From Pornography to Porno to Porn: How Porn Became the Norm. In Stoner, J. Stoner & Hughes, D. (Eds.), The Social Cost of Pornography: A Collection of Papers (pp. 3-20). Princeton, N.J.: Witherspoon Institute.COPY 

Related: Does Porn Normalize Gender Stereotypes And Sexist Ideas?

But it’s not only physical looks that get distorted in porn. Women are also generally portrayed as anxious for sex anywhere, at any time, with anyone, and they are delighted to go as long and as aggressively as one or multiple partners want. They always climax, usually loudly and ecstatically, and then are immediately ready for more. They never get tired or sore. They never need a break. And even when they say “no,” it’s insinuated that they don’t really mean it.

In fact, they never seem to need anything at all except endless sex. They are depicted as happy with whatever a man wants to do, even if it’s risky, painful, or humiliating.Layden, M. A. (2010) Pornography and Violence: A New Look at the Research. In Stoner, J. & Hughes, D. (Eds.), The Social Cost of Pornography: A Collection of Papers (pp. 57-68). Princeton, N.J.: Witherspoon InstituteCOPY 

There are over 50 scientific studies that show a negative correlation between porn consumption and sexual or relationship satisfaction. Over and over again, researchers find that when porn is involved, relationships suffer. And while some women see immediately that the problem is porn, many believe that they themselves are the issue.

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A girl or woman might wonder things like: Why can’t I make things work? Why am I not good enough for him? What can I do to be worth connecting with?

Her insecurity isn’t fueling issues in relationships—porn is.

Whether it is a personal habit of hers, or her partner who consumes porn, a girl in a porn-influenced relationship has to navigate through the warped standards of our pornified culture. The partners can focus too much on sex, or on unhealthy elements of sex, and ignore the beautiful and diverse pieces of real love that make actual relationships so exciting and fulfilling.

That’s the beauty of real love. It’s an understanding, caring give-and-take with loving sex as one part of the story. Girls are capable of more than insecurity and uncertainty, and they’re absolutely worth more than how porn portrays them.

Imagine if the world only had porn as a reference for what girls and women are really like. What lies would society believe about them? If you’re a girl or woman, what lies would you believe about yourself?

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